The Department of Health and Human Services has come under fire for withholding thousands of public comments critical of its policies that could make it harder for transgender patience to get care, and for women to have safe access to an abortion.
In October, the Trump administration asked for public comment regarding its plan to begin backing away from regulations on religious and faith-based groups. So far, barely any have been posted, and most were in favor of the policy.
The move is yet another example of how the Trump administration is setting its sights on the LGBTQ community, while looking to give wide birth to anyone who wishes to discriminate and cite their religious beliefs as motivation.
HHS received nearly 11,000 comments, according to Politico, but published only 80, which is less than one percent. Sources said the comments were handpicked. Less than 10 were critical of HHS’s plan, and a person with knowledge of the department’s decision making process said it “posted a flurry of last-minute criticism in hopes of making a curated selection of comments appear more balanced.”
“As a family physician with a worldview that acknowledges a loving God who has authority that supersedes any person or government, I cannot comply with recent federal legislation including the HHS Transgender Mandate,” wrote a commenter identifying as John Petrilli of Premier Community Healthcare, in a quote emblematic of many being posted.
The way HHS is handling the public comments is bringing about questions of legality.
“The public can’t discriminate in a public forum,” Rachael Klarman of Democracy Forward noted. She added that prioritizing comments that agree with the agency and that recent case law “would suggest that’s a pretty big problem under the First Amendment.”
Lawyers told Politico that the agency is also at risk of violating government transparency laws, such as the E-Government Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“There has been a voluminous response…and the center’s team is working through a review of the submissions,” Shannon Royce, who leads the agency’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and who is overseeing the proposal, said in a statement.
Royce previously served as chief operating officer of the far-right, anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council.
“It’s very apparent that there’s something in the comments that doesn’t fit into their narrative,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and who is among those whose submitted comments have yet to appear.
“On the heels of an attempt to erase transgender Americans from CDC documents, we’re now seeing the Trump-Pence Administration refuse to disclose public comments on religious exemptions to LGBTQ healthcare coverage and eliminate the global threats to LGBTQ people from the conversation on human rights and national security,” said David Stacy, head of government affairs at the Human Rights Campaign.
“This is part of a disturbing pattern across the Trump-Pence Administration of refusing to even study the unique healthcare and other needs of LGBTQ people, jeopardizing science-based assessment of heath disparities and undermining access to programs and services that are vital to the health and well-being of LGBTQ people. If Donald Trump and Mike Pence believe we are going to remain silent and permit this dangerous trend to go unanswered, they are sorely mistaken.”